The Criminal Code of Canada makes it an offence if a driver’s ability to operate or have care or control of a motor vehicle is impaired by alcohol and or drugs. Courts have defined “impairment” to mean any degree of impairment ranging from slight to great. So for example, swerving between lanes, having slurred speech or bloodshot eyes, and a strong odour of alcohol emanating from a driver’s breath may be used as evidence of impairment by alcohol.
Impairment by drugs may be more difficult to detect. However, the Criminal Code of Canada grants the police the power to conduct standard field sobriety tests on the driver – such as walking in a straight line or standing on one leg to determine whether the driver has good balance or not.
If the police believe on reasonable and probable grounds that a person has been in care or control or driven a motor vehicle within the previous three hours and the person is impaired by alcohol, then the police may demand that the person accompany them to a police station in order to provide samples of breath in a breathalyser to determine the concentration of alcohol in the person’s blood. If the police believe that the driver is impaired by drugs, the police may demand that the driver accompany them to the police station to give a sample of either oral fluid or urine (or blood in certain circumstances) to determine whether the person has a drug in their body.
If the driver is subsequently convicted of impaired driving, the minimum punishment for a first offence is a fine of at least $1,000 and a 1-year driving suspension. For a second offence, the punishment is at least 30 days in prison and a 3-year driving suspension. For any subsequent offence, the suspension is indefinite.
As well, drivers convicted of impaired driving must also complete a remedial measures program before being eligible to have their driver’s licence reinstated. The main component of the program is to install an ignition interlock for a minimum of one year for a first offence. With an interlock ignition device, the driver is not able to start the vehicle unless the driver provides an acceptable breath sample into the device. Drivers with an ignition interlock condition must not operate any vehicle without an approved interlock ignition device installed on that vehicle.
Due to changes in the law, drivers convicted on or after August 3, 2010 may be eligible to participate in an interlock conduct review program. In return for meeting specific requirements, such as the installation of an improved interlock device in their vehicle, eligible drivers that enter the program may have their driver’s licence suspension reduced.
It is important to note that a person caught driving while under suspension risks further criminal penalties ranging from a fine to imprisonment.